A Travellerspoint blog

Daily Journal Time!

The past week (or so)...

sunny 28 °C

Monday, June 18, 2007
Playing the Poor Student

Well, classes began once again, after an extremely short break for us. While the bulk of the school's students went out to the desert, our group went to Rabat, the capital of Morocco, and the nearby town of Kenitra, where there is an extremely nice beach on the Atlantic. The trip itself was extremely short, as we left from Fes early on Saturday morning. We arrived in Rabat a little after noon, where we checked into our hotel, the Hotel Majlis. The hotel was almost like walking into a completely different country: I had left the, for lack of a better term, Moroccan feel of the Medina in Fes for the European comforts of the hotel, which is beside the train station in the French-designed Ville Nouvelle ("New City" in French; almost every major Moroccan city has this quarter). The afternoon was somewhat open, as we all had the choice of going to the beach in Rabat or going to the souk. Knowing that we were going to the beach the next day, I (with a couple other people) opted for the latter option. As a result, we had a wonderful time. One of the cadets, Daniel, was leaving Morocco on Monday, and he was looking for some various items to take home. This was the point where we both decided to have a little bit of fun with regards to our identities and conduct a little experiment: Daniel and I decided to "become" English and Dutch students respectively and see whether there would be any effect on our ability to bargain. After a bit of fun, we had managed to purchase 3 pairs of Moroccan shoes and a Moroccan tea set. Our ability to bargain was somewhat hampered by several factors:

First of all, it is extremely important to not have all of your money in your wallet. By placing the bulk of your money in another pocket, you give the appearance of having less money with which to work.
Another problem was knowing when to leave during bargaining. If you walk too early, then it is possible that the owner won't try to bring you back, as you do not appear to be very interested. At the same time, waiting too long to leave can mean that you will not get as good of a deal as you could have.
Finally, it is extremely difficult to shop around for good prices, as the bargaining process means that the price you are given is good only as long as you are at the stand. As a result, several better deals were missed on our part.

After returning to the hotel, Daniel and I decided to ask a couple of people if they wanted to - this is great - walk back over to the souk. I changed my clothes, since it was getting colder out, and we went for a bit of a walk. The evening was a lot of fun, and we eventually wound up at a little restaurant across from McDonald's, where I had a chwarma, which is shaved meat on bread. Mine was beef, and it is truly the closest thing I have had to barbecue while over here. Finally, after chatting with some folks in the hotel lobby (I thought that my quasi-insomnia had passed), I went up to my room, where I quickly fell asleep.

The next morning saw a rather hurried breakfast on my part, since I had gotten up a little on the late side. The hotel's breakfast was quite French, with my meal consisting of several pastries and glasses of orange juice. After packing, we made our way over to the Hassan Tower/Mohammed V Mausoleum, which is the burial site of the two former kings of Morocco (Mohammed V and Hassan II). The site is truly incredible, and unfortunately my camera malfunctioned inside the mausoleum, which meant that I was not able to take pictures of the tombs. Oh well, perhaps it was a sign...

We then got on the road to Keneitra, where we spent the greater part of the afternoon. While most of the folks went swimming, I was not overly thrilled with the ideas of a 240 km/150 mi bus ride before I had access to a shower, so I decided to have a relaxed lunch and walk along the beach. It was a beautiful day, and perhaps the biggest problem was that we had to leave around 4:15 in order to get back to Fes at a reasonable time. After a brief stop at a gas station on the motorway, we soon returned to Fes. A lovely surprise was that the bus was dropping us off in the Medina, which saved me the cost of a bus or taxi ride. After getting back to the room, I got to doing some of my homework, and then I quickly got ready for bed.

Unfortunately, Monday meant that it was a return to the routine of classes. 7 AM always comes way too early for me, especially since sunrise is around 5:30 AM here (no Daylight Saving Time here). Add to it that I have four hours of language instruction each day (in addition to any sort of homework and/or leisure activities) and time quickly adds up. I got back my second quiz; it was a 39/40, which is about a 97.5%. Needless to say, I was extremely pleased. After going home for lunch, I came back to school for the afternoon session, and after that (and some socializing/email checking in the garden) I finally made my way home. More work; always more, it seems. Toujours les devoirs; Da'imaan ouaajib (French and Arabic respectively). But I really do think that I'm finally getting in the language groove.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Classes were as per usual; lots of work, lots of progress. I'm finding that the grammatical constructs of Arabic have parallels in some of the other languages I have studied; as a result, picking up the grammar is not as difficult as I had thought. Vocabulary, on the other hand, is a bit of a different beast; for the most part, there are not many similarities, so memorization is a little tougher. Since today was Tuesday, I got to go to Khadija's (one of our program directors) apartment for our culture and history course. We had a henna artist as our guest lecturer, who also did henna for us (it's apparently an important Moroccan tradition). As it was voluntary, I decided to not have henna done. I'm certainly not regretting that decision!

Since I had a bit of work to do before the afternoon class today (our afternoon class is bumped up 2 hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays), I decided to skip lunch, and I am not completely unhappy with the result. I was able to get my work done, and I thoroughly enjoyed my later meals. Sometimes I do wonder if the homestay was a good idea, although it is certainly not because of my family. In fact, I suppose that it is indeed me at times; I'm thrown for a loop with certain things, such as the meal situation or the language/communications issues. Each time I think that, though, I realize that I'm probably just having a bad day. Oh, well. Not every day is bad, and hopefully tomorrow will be a little better.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Murphy's Law Strikes!

More work. Big surprise! It's really incredible how much work is being shoved into this course. Over the past week and a half, we have completed three full chapters in this textbook, and we've started the fourth today. To give you an idea of the pace, most schools go through about eight chapters a year. Needless to say, this has been a little short of torture, and I chose to do this! As if that wasn't enough, I've also been dealing with some other various problems, not least of which has been the slow and painful demise of my computer. The 30-45 minutes needed to turn on the computer due to repeated crashing was tolerable, and I had planned to reformat the hard drive once I had returned to the States, but a new problem has popped up: every 2 hours or so, the computer randomly locks up, meaning that I get to - yes, you guessed it! - restart the whole process! I obviously need to speed up my plans. I began to back up all the files I had not previously taken care of, but I have run into a problem: I'm still about half of a gigabyte short in terms of needed memory. Sounds like I need to go to Marjane, which is like a massive Wal-Mart. I'll do that at the end of the week. Until then, I've got other things with which to deal.

Thursday, June 21, 2007
Murphy's Law Strikes! Again!

AARGH! I woke up this morning to a sore throat. The problem is that it has not gone away. Goody, a cold! This should be a lot of fun! In addition, tomorrow is our weekly quiz, and I still have not completely figured out the plural in Arabic, which is perhaps even more confusing than the plural in English. There seems to be very little pattern to the whole thing, and it's the sort of thing that makes you want to tear your hair out. If I can make it to the weekend, that would really be wonderful, as we are going to the Middle Atlas, where I will be in the fall. We'll also get to see monkeys. Yay!

We had our culture class today, and we talked about the succession crisis following the death of Mohammed in AD 632 and the establishment of the caliphate, as well as the Sunni-Shi'a schism. I know that sounds like dry stuff, but the repercussions of these events are being felt even to this day; one needs only to look at the sectarian violence in Iraq to see that. I submitted my research paper topic today: the history of the Western Sahara conflict following the withdrawl of the Spanish in 1975. This topic, which I will address in later posts, is a crucial aspect of contemporary Moroccan politics. After all, the Moroccans left the OAU, a kind of African UN, because it decided to give recognition to the Polisario movement, which has fought against Morocco for an independent Western Sahara. It's rather important.

Hopefully, this is all just allergies, though, and this sore throat will be gone tomorrow.

Friday, June 22, 2007
I was wrong. But there are good things too.

Nope, it wasn't allergies. Sore throat today, but now there's nasal congestion too! As soon as the day was done, I wanted to be out like a light. Unfortunately, there was a bit of work to complete, including a quiz. While preparing for the quiz, I finally got the hang of plurals, which couldn't have come soon enough. The quiz went well, although it was a lot of work. In addition to providing the plurals, there was a reading passage complete with questions, a vocabulary section, subject/predicate identification, sentence tranlations, and a short essay! I was even more exhausted after finishing that, although my instructor told me that I did very well on it. That really made my day.

After class, I went with Megan, one of the people in my group, to Marjane, in order to get the flash drive for my computer as well as some other items. After a rather hectic trek across the store, we finally checked out and got in a taxi. The driver was very friendly to us, and he asked us where we were from. I decided to try my Dutch routime out. Big mistake, as it turns out that the driver had lived in Einhoven for three years! Once he started speaking in Dutch to me, I made up a little story about how I left when I was very young and moved to England. Meanwhile, Megan was sitting behind me laughing her head off. Finally we got to our destination, and I went back to the institute for a couple minutes of email and socializing.

After wrapping that up, I went over to the apartment of a few cadets who had invited me over for a bit of a get-together. After chatting with some folks for a few hours, I decided that I might want to get home. But there were a couple problems with that, not least of which was that I didn't have a key to the building. Additionally, I didn't have my host family's phone number, so I had no way of contacting them. Faced with the prospect of going into the Medina in the dark without knowing whether I could get inside, I decided to play it safe and stay at the apartment. After all, my roommate had seen me earlier, so he knew of my plight.

Unfortunately, I couldn't sleep, so I decided to work on my computer. I finished up the backup, and I started the reformat. It worked perfectly. Finally, around 3 AM or so, I drifted off to sleep.

Saturday, June 23, 2007
Monkeys, Mountains, Musicians, and Medications

7:30 AM came way too early for me, especially since I was not able to get any of my medicine, which was sitting in the Medina. Fortunately, one of the cadets is a medic at VMI, so he had some packets of Sudafed on him, which saved me a lot of trouble. After seeing my host father and explaining what had happened, I got into Dr. Taifi's car, which is a Mercedes E-Class Diesel. I learned some interesting facts about this car, as it had previously been in the motorpool of the palace in Fes. Since license plates are kept with a car after it has been sold in Morocco, this car still has royal tags. As a result, there were several instances of police officers saluting the car as we drove along. It was a lot of fun.

We made our way through Ifrane, which is home to Al Akhawayn University, where I will be attending classes this fall. The campus appears to be extremely beautiful. Unfortunately I was not able to take any pictures, since we went through town merely to get to other destinations, the first of which was a forest with monkeys. They were extremely friendly and (almost) disgustingly cute. Not as cute as some of the little kittens here in the Medina, but very cute nonetheless.

Our next stop was Azrou, which is the administrative capital for the region. We visited an artisanal center, which is a government-funded and regulated shop. I was tempted to get some things, but alas, I didn't have the funds on me. Oh, well. After Azrou we drove up to a mountain spring, and this is where the day gets extremely hazy for me, as I was forced to change medications to something that made me very drowsy. The next thing I know is that it's three or four hours later, and I had fallen asleep along the banks of the spring, which is also the source of a major river, and we were driving back towards Fes. After a stop at our driver's mother's house for some tea (a very neat experience), we again stopped in Azrou, where a couple of friends and I sat in a cafe until we were ready to go. After returning to Fes, Zac and I got back to the house, where an American Idol-style show was on. The difference was that there were a lot of musical guests, including a French singer named Helene Segara, who Zac (and I) think is possibly the most beautiful woman in the world, and a Moroccan "international folk rock" group called Hoba Hoba Spirit. Finally I crashed, and I got in bed, not caring when I awoke.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

I was lucky to sleep until around 9 AM, when I finally got up. I've had two communications problems (other than lacking the ability to speak) since I've gotten this cold. First of all, my host father remains convinced that the cold was caused by the window being open during the night, which would be difficult when the low gets to around, oh, 50 degrees F or so. This has led to some headbutting, particularly when I feel like I have a permanent fever. The second concerns - shock! - food. When I get sick, I typically do not want to eat, a concept my host family fails to grasp. Oh well, I'm compensating by eating more slowly.

After lunch, I decided to take advantage of my free time and watch The Last King of Scotland, starring Forest Whittaker as the late Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. While the film was extremely graphic, it was an extremely good movie, and I gladly recommend it as such. After the movie, I decided to make some phone calls Stateside and then get to some homework. After slipping into yet another nap, I had dinner, took a shower, and got in bed.

Monday, June 25, 2007
Back to the salt mines.

Well, it feels like I went a good five steps or so backwards, or at least I feel that way. Today I did get a little bit of good news: I got a 98 on my test from Friday. Unfortunately, the rest of the day was extremely infuriating. While the work has been going rather well, I have been having my share of problems with loneliness and the like. I feel that at times I am completely unable to fit in with the other folks here. Needless to say, I am finding this a bit difficult, and my happiness from work has been eroded as a result.

My health has improved, at least more so than yesterday. That much is good, although I would like to be completely healthy by this upcoming weekend. I need to get to knocking out my paper on the Western Sahara. As for my work, I suppose that somehow it will manage to work itself out.

The funniest thing is that the problems I am experiencing are all personal; that is, none of them have any sort of cultural issues. How strange. Perhaps tomorrow will be better.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007
...like the Sword of Damocles.

For some reason I am still extremely upset; I can't seem to shake off this feeling. As the title suggests, it's hanging over me.... But I do still feel like progress is being made on the language. It really is hard to believe that in three weeks I will be returning to the States, and only two more weeks of classes. It truly is incredible how quickly time flies.

It's been one of those days where I simply cannot get into the rhythm of things. Although I have a massive amount of work, I can't seem to focus on it. The simplest nuisances are infuriating me more than I could imagine. I really hope that it's illness, which is continuing to improve, rather than me that is causing this. The culture class is coming up soon, and I am not really sure whether I am completely here at the moment. I suppose we'll see in the next hour or so.

And that's all I have time for right now. If there are any questions or comments you want to direct at me, feel free to email me at golladayp@gmail.com, and I'll see what I can do. Until later, good afternoon from Fes.


Posted by golladayp 09:18 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Culture Shock?

A look at language and nationality in Morocco

sunny 25 °C

Apologies for not posting recently; unfortunately, my workload seems to only increase as I stay in Morocco. However, this post is obligatory, and not only because it is a journal entry for a course I am taking here! Since my most recent bit of writing, I have taken two different excursions: to the Roman ruins at Volubilis and the city of Meknes, and a weekend trip to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. As both trips certainly deserve an article each in their own right, I will come back to those trips in future updates.
Before that, though, I would like to take a little bit of time to talk about the phenomenon known as “culture shock,” or the reaction of people when they are in places unfamiliar to themselves (paraphrase of Stephen Bochner, as are parts of the following). Essentially, the idea is that there are predominately two major groups among foreign travelers: sojourners and settlers. While settlers are coming to an area for a permanent stay, sojourners (as their name suggests) are merely in an area for a temporary period. As a result, settlers tend to become active participants in their new cultures, while sojourners confine themselves to an observer status. The sojourner instead looks towards that which is familiar to him or her and subsequently determines that things not familiar are thus not as good as his or her own customs. This mainly comes from four so-called “push” factors – uncertainty coming from the unfamiliarity of the new culture, helplessness and self-doubt, confusion about one’s role, and revulsion at unfamiliar and controversial customs – and two “pull” factors: loss of status and homesickness.
Now that we’ve got a simple definition from which to work, I’d like to recap my past (almost) three weeks in the Kingdom of Morocco. First of all, I will state up front that I suffered an acute case of “culture shock;” however, my overwhelming fear of the country was caused in great part as I read Orin Hargraves’s book Culture Shock: Morocco, and I began to wonder if it really was a good idea to go to a country where I would be starting an unknown language from scratch. However, by the time I landed in Casablanca, I had finally wrapped my head around the idea that my French would provide a useful crutch until I had some Arabic under my belt. Indeed, perhaps the most surprising thing that has happened over the course of my stay has been the assumptions towards me on the part of Moroccans. While most Americans would expect to hear English spoken towards them (even in foreign countries), it came as a bit of a surprise that I – a foreigner – was being treated as if I was French, since the natural assumption is that any European-looking person is French or at least speaks French. In fact, the only times I have been addressed in English have been moments when I have been speaking to another person in English.
On the topic of English, one thing I have taken into account from the cultural prereading has been the way that Americans are viewed in Morocco. While the United States and Morocco have had a long and meaningful relationship spanning over two centuries, the image of the American – especially the American student – certainly conjures certain images, especially since (in the words of a school administrator) “[some Moroccans] think that you’re in the medina because it’s got the best kif and hashish in the world.” As a result, I have conducted a little experiment of my own. In certain situations, I have put on a Dutch accent and pretended to be, well, Dutch. This has occurred on two separate occasions, both of which occurred this weekend. The first time was in the souk in Rabat, where another student and I – in an effort to look less wealthy – decided to pretend to be poor students, which was in part true. As a result, I believe that we were seen by the merchants in a slightly different light than had we been American tourists looking to spend money, and we were able to have a better situation during price haggling. The second situation occurred yesterday after classes, when Zac and I were walking back home. We were approached by a Moroccan contemporary, who introduced himself to us. The conversation also moved to such things as drug use, particularly hashish. Being in a Dutch guise (the irony of which I realized soon after the encounter) made me more able to reject his advances, as we were able to get away from the situation.
Language and nationality has not been the only surprises I have encountered while in Morocco. As pointed out in my previous post (see it for more details), there have also been differences in dining here as well. Additional topics, which I shall address in future updates, include religion, gender relations, and whatever else any of you want me to look at. Feel free to send me an email at golladayp@gmail.com, and I’ll be happy to give whatever you send me a look.

Au revoir from Maroc.


Posted by golladayp 09:34 Archived in Morocco Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

What about second dinner?

Differences in Moroccan dining

sunny 27 °C

Unfortunately the internet at the institute has been rather spotty in the past week; additionally, what free time I previously had has now been consumed with large amounts of classwork. That being said, I will probably try to make my updates on a weekly basis, although I might try to have them more frequently.

Now that the administrative things have been taken care of, I’ll now move on to the meat and potatoes (pun partially intended) of this entry: food. As you may have noticed from my first entries, my life in Morocco is constantly revolving around food. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not a matter of the food being bad. There are some crucial differences regarding Moroccan dining versus American:

• The most notable difference (in our family, at least) is the total of meals. While almost everyone in the States have three meals a day, a common day in Morocco seems to have up to four meals: breakfast, lunch, a small meal around 6-8 PM, and a larger “dinner” served after 10 PM, usually between 11 PM and midnight.
• Additionally, the lunch and late dinner meals tend to be a lot larger than their American counterparts. A fast or light lunch is extremely unusual here; the Moroccan “lunch hour” is from noon until 3 PM. Following in the footsteps of the French and other southern Europeans, everything except for restaurants and café’s close during these hours.
• The serving of a meal is a little different from the States in that the main dish is typically served from a central dish from which you pick out your portions. This is also crucial when considering the use of hands: while it is completely normal (in some cases obligatory) to use hands in the common dish, it is taboo to use the left hand for religious (left hand is the devil’s hand) and sanitary (try living in areas where toilet paper is a rarity) reasons. However, it ultimately depends on the family. While my family does not really care about my choice of hands, I still use my right hand for common dishes.
• On the note of service and common dishes, another massive difference is with the base of the meal: bread. While American meals may have rolls or biscuits as a side item, bread in Morocco serves not only as the ubiquitous item during any meal but also as a utensil for the main dish. In order to do this, you tear the piece of bread in half and use the non-crust portion (with the right hand, of course!) as a sponge for the food.
• In all likelihood the most apparent difference once the meal begins is the prodding. You see, the cultural importance of sharing a meal with someone is massive in Islam in general and particularly so in Morocco. The idea is that sharing a meal is the ultimate show of peace towards someone; therefore, any refusal by the guest is considered to be extremely offensive. As a result, it is quite common for guests to be told to “Eat! Eat!” during the course of a meal. My roommate Zach has a theory on this: the two most important aspects of Moroccan society seem to be eating and talking. If a guest is not talking, he or she should be eating. As a result, the prodding tends to happen during lulls in conversation.

In short, I suppose that should explain what has been happening over the past (almost) two weeks with regards to food. If anybody has any specific questions about food or any other topics, feel free to send me an email (golladayp@gmail.com) and I will try to answer them in future updates.

Inshallah (God willing; I’ll explain fatalism and other topics next time) I’ll get another one of these up soon.


Posted by golladayp 06:54 Archived in Morocco Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

Recapping the Past Few Days

The Journey, the Arrival, the Chaos...

sunny 28 °C

Unfortunately, I hadn't been able to sit down and type until yesterday evening. As a result, some parts of this brief summary of my past few days are a bit hazy, but I've done my best to relate it here:

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The day for me began not terribly early: 8 AM. I woke up at my grandmother’s house, which is around 100 miles from Washington, my first stop of many on my way to Morocco. The day began simply enough, as my father and I went for a short walk in order to work my leg muscles. In hindsight, this was a very wise move, as my opportunities to walk around later were somewhat inhibited. After having breakfast (sausage, the last time I’ll be having that for a while) and saying goodbye to my mother and grandmother, I got on the road to DC with my father. The first part of the drive was straightforward enough: we finally hit a wall of traffic on Interstate 66 driving into the capital, around Warrenton. Fortunately, we had just exited the interstate to get a drink (Vanilla Coke is back, and the Vanilla Coke Zero is the finest drink known to man), so we went along the parallel roadways going into Manassas. We got to the airport around 1 PM, almost two and a half hours before my scheduled flight, a Delta commuter jet to JFK in New York. While checking in, I was offered an opportunity: there was one seat left on a plane scheduled to leave around 2:30. Not wanting to sit around the airport for any longer than I had to, I gladly accepted. The flight was efficient and uneventful; it took around 47 minutes to get on the ground in New York.
That’s when the fun started. You see, I have had to make a connecting flight only twice in my life, one of which was an international flight. In both cases, the airports I went to (Cincinnati and Atlanta) had connecting terminals, so once you had entered airport security at the first airport, you did not have to repeat the process once you arrived at another airport. However, JFK is a different kettle of fish. When I was looking for my flight (Royal Air Maroc, more about them later), I was told that I had to leave the terminal, which was itself not a big deal. The problem was that I also had to check in at the Royal Air Maroc (hereafter abbreviated to RAM) desk in order to receive my boarding pass. The first hurdle came with trying to find their desk. JFK’s directory listed the RAM desk is area D. The only problem with that was, well, it wasn’t there. I looked everywhere, and then I resorted to asking a person at the Turkish Airlines desk (who was in area D) where RAM was. The response – area A – answered one question, but soon other problems developed. I first entered the ticket desk line (there was also a Delta person there, as this was a codeshare flight), and they told me that I had everything needed for the flight, and they directed me to the check-in line. Cue problem number two: not only did I not have a boarding pass, but I was not even in RAM’s system. Needless to say, this is a significant problem. I was directed back to the ticket desk, where they told me about an interesting problem: Delta’s e-ticketing system (from where we had the tickets) had been having some issues with the RAM computers. Fortunately, these problems were quickly resolved, and it’s not like I had to be on the plane in a hurry, since the flight’s departure was not scheduled for another four hours. Back through line I went, with replacement check-in tickets in tow, and I finally got a boarding pass (this took around an hour/90 minutes).
The terminal did indeed have issues. Perhaps the biggest problem – besides the fact that the food court was actually behind the security checkpoint, so once you entered the terminal, there was no chance for food – was the fact that I had not found any people who were a part of the VMI group. So I sat and read, while some time passed. And passed. And finally slowed. Suddenly, I saw one of the W&L students walking around, at which point I met the folks in the group, so we all began chatting before the flight. As H-hour got closer, I made all my last phone calls to my parents, sister, and girlfriend, after which the plane (at long last) began boarding.
Because I had had done transatlantic travel previously, I knew that an aisle seat was absolutely necessary for any sort of comfort. Unfortunately, my bungled check-in meant that I had lost my reserved seat and instead got – yep! You guessed it! – a middle seat. So I first try to sit beside another VMI person. But that seat was soon claimed by the person whose seat it was. As a result, I got to take my original seat, beside a young woman about my age in a headscarf and robe. We began talking some small talk, and she spoke English with an American accent. Her father, though, asked a favor of me: to switch seats. His seat was on the aisle two rows ahead. As it was the best case for all involved, I quickly agreed. The other two seats in my row were held by two Americans named Jack and Allen. They were going to have a fourteen-hour layover in Casablanca (our destination) before flying to Niamey, the capital of Niger, where they would be teaching English. Allen was born at Fort Bragg, so we three quickly struck up a conversation.
Unfortunately, the happy little world created in our row did not extend to the rows around us, as there were many, many small children and infants around us. So much crying! In any case, I had decided that my trip would not be ruined by the noise of either people or airplane engines, so I had brought my noise-cancelling headphones for the flight. Two problems developed, however: my MP3 Flash drive had quit functioning for reasons as yet unknown, and the in-flight music system had its own problems. When plugged in, my headphones received a nasty bit of static in the right ear. I naturally assumed that the problem was with my headphones, so I plugged into my neighbor’s system in order to check. That one had the other ear go out, even though I had the airplane adapter with me. Oh, well, the static was reduced if the proper amount of pressure was applied to the adapter, which was a bit tedious when you are also trying to sleep. The food was surprisingly good, as we had lasagna with salad and a chocolate cake with apricot filling. Also, drinks were a part of the meal (including options like wine or liquor), which I found out only after the flight! Finally, coffee and tea capped off the meal. The in-flight movie was planned to be The Pursuit of Happyness, but it was not shown since they did not have any headphones for the flight. An overnight kit was handed out, including a night mask and (oddly enough) socks, and I spent the rest of the flight trying to sleep. I failed in my task.

Thursday, May 31, 2007
After a light breakfast (a croissant, chocolate mini-muffin, yogurt, and coffee/tea), we were soon on the ground at Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca (Caza, for short). This was definitely not the land of Humphrey Bogart; it was sunny and in the 60s (Fahrenheit) with a strong sea breeze coming in from the Atlantic. We got on a bus and made our way to the terminal (the entire airport is under renovation, so the gates at the terminal are currently closed). Then we got to experience the universal joy of going through passport control. One of our W&L students, Jackie, walked up to the counter manned by Derek Jeter’s clone, and the response she got was reminiscent of the one Maleah received when we went to Italy! Our line was moving extremely slow, especially since these two African women (don’t know what country) were taking a lot of time to pass through our line. Finally, we got through the checkpoint and went to get our bags. I got mine without incident, which sent me over the moon. After passing through customs (i.e., showing an American passport), we entered the airport proper, where Dr. Taifi was standing and waiting for us. We then walked over to the ATM and/or exchanged money and waited for everyone to exit customs. Fortunately only one person had baggage missing, and that was quickly resolved.
Once we had all gotten outside, we finally got to the vans for our trek to Fes (a four-hour drive). The group split into two: the first van had primarily cadets, and the other was had the remaining cadets as well as the non-cadets. We first drove from Casablanca to the other side of Rabat along the A1 motorway. Everything was going well for us until right before Rabat, where our van was pulled over by the Security Police (the standard national police force) for speeding. We had seen some other vehicles, usually late-model luxury sedans, being pulled over along the route, where the smiling drivers handed over a “payment” to the smiling policemen, and we knew that this would most likely not be a problem. However, one of our students had just woken up, and she had picked her camera up from her lap just as the officers were walking over to the van.
This was the point where all hell broke loose. You see, the security forces in Morocco are extremely sensitive regarding any sort of photography of what is “important to national security interests;” in other words, any sort of filming of any government facility or officer is strictly forbidden. But the problem was that this student didn’t speak any Arabic (Moroccan Arabic or Modern Standard Arabic, which I will cover later) or French, and the officers did not speak any English or Spanish, which the student knew. Our driver then got out and started talking with the officers, as did Dr. Taifi. They demanded to see that the student wasn’t taking any photos, and despite showing them that there were no offensive pictures, they remained quite aggressive until she offered to erase the contents of her camera. Finally they stood down from their stance, allowing us to go. Then they realized why they had originally pulled us, and gave the driver a warning. We then drove off.
Getting on the A2 from Rabat to Fes, we quickly learned two important things about the highway system in Morocco. Firstly, outside of the A1, the highways, while in pretty good condition, are extremely bumpy. Additionally, all of the drivers in Morocco are extremely aggressive and, well, bad at driving. This lovely combination meant that the route was full of excitement. The short answer is that anyone who wants to drive in Morocco is either crazy, suicidal, or both. In between short bouts of sleep interrupted by those two factors, we finally made our way to Fes.
Once we finally arrived at the school (around 2 PM), we were greeted with a meal: couscous. I was finally able to get online (the school has wireless access), and there was indeed some semblance of home. We had a couple of meetings, and then we finally met our host families. I was paired with Zach, a cadet from VMI, and we are living with … in an area of the city bordering the Ville Nouvelle (the French-built part of the city) and the Medina (the old part of town). Our host father drives a “petit taxi,” which is a small red FIAT used for intra-city transport. They have four children: two daughters, (who is engaged) and , and two sons, and Hamza.
The mother and the older daughter both speak a little bit of English, but in communication we quickly encountered a problem. While Zach has taken one year of Arabic, he has taken Modern Standard or “Classical” Arabic; that is, Arabic taken directly from the Quran. The local dialect of Arabic, though, bears little resemblance to Classical Arabic. Zach’s other language is Spanish, so for the first day we were forced to communicate solely through my one year of high-school French, which I haven’t studied for over four years. In a move which would have made my high school teachers proud, I surprisingly remembered much of my French, and we were able to have some form of rudimentary communication.
Things quickly moved to what I think is the most important part of Moroccan culture: food. I seriously do not understand how so much food can be consumed! When we arrived at the apartment (around 7 PM), we had what we thought was dinner. It was quite filling: mint tea, olives, eggs, olive oil, cheese (La Vâche qui Rit, or The Laughing Cow back in the States), a sweet paste, and – of course – Moroccan bread. No meal in Morocco is complete without plenty of bread, it seems. By the end of this meal (which was full of our host imploring us Kul! or Mange!, or eat! in Arabic and French respectively), we were stuffed. I also had to get accustomed to one important difference: I had to become right-handed, since the style of eating mandates eating from common plates, and the left hand is considered taboo for religious and sanitary reasons. We chatted with our host and the family for a while, while the television played in the background.
The way that television works in Morocco is – if you don’t have a satellite dish (these are quite common) – that you have the TNT (French for Digital Terrestrial Television) system of state-run channels. There is Channel 1, 2M (a play on the French deuxième, or “second” channel), and a couple of others. The programming is bilingual, but it tends to focus on Arabic-language broadcasting. It alternates during the day, so oftentimes an Arabic show will be followed by a French show, and vice versa. There are a number of movies and American shows dubbed into French, as well as Arabic-language broadcasts from (primarily) Egypt. For example, our first night had a mixture of Arabic soap operas, news programs in both French and Arabic, The Shield, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Go figure.
In addition to watching television, our host mother helped me practice my French by showing me some photos. First, she showed us the photos of her older daughter at her engagement ceremony. Her fiancé doesn’t really look Moroccan; he is extremely fair-skinned, has blond hair, and has very blue eyes. In fact, I had to ask, since I was not sure. After that, we looked at some pictures of Mohammed VI, the king, and his family. Mohammed is extremely young, having acceded to the throne following Hassan II’s death in 1999. His wife, who looks quite European (red hair and extremely fair skin), is originally from Fes. The photos include pictures of their two children and the king’s siblings. Finally, we found out (Zach told me about this as well) that the royal family is currently in Fes for the “Global Sacred Music Festival,” an event which brings in a lot of international guests. This year the queen of Jordan is one of the guests of honor. Needless to say, this would explain why the entire city was draped in the red and green of the Moroccan flag.
Finally, around 11 PM, our host father returned home from work. We then sat down for dinner. Yes, dinner. Yes, at 11 PM. We had a tomato-based soup with noodles, carrots, and potatoes, with the ubiquitous bread and tea. Yes, tea at 11 PM. Zach and I quickly became stuffed once more (an aspect of social protocol in Morocco mandates that you eat as much as possible, as refusing food is considered a great affront to a host). Finally, around midnight, our first day in Morocco came to an end.

Friday, June 1, 2007

The day started around 7:10 AM, about 40 minutes later than I intended. There was no time for a shower, so I resorted to washing my face and putting on cologne (a wise item to pack, in retrospect). We had breakfast, which was toasted bread, margarine, cheese, tea, and coffee, and walked over to the area where our host father would pick us up, since the streets are too narrow for a car to go right up to the door. Our journey took 10 minutes (hooray for lax traffic laws!), although it was a hair-raising 10 minutes, especially as the taxi has no seatbelts. Getting to the school, Zach and I walk up to our first class, which is a crash course in Moroccan Arabic. The information is extremely helpful, especially since learning Arabic in Morocco is much more beneficial than knowing French. This is for several reasons, such as the fact that Arabic is universal in Morocco, while French is not universally understood. Additionally, speaking in Arabic is seen much more positively by Moroccans, especially when the person speaking looks like a European, due to the cultural and colonial implications of French. After a short break, I then went to my class for Modern Standard Arabic (hereafter referred to as MSA), where we began to learn the alphabet. Those two hours flew by as well, and we then got together for lunch, where the school again prepared couscous for us.
We ended class at noon, and we did not reconvene until 4 PM. The reason for this is partially cultural. In the Mediterranean tradition, Morocco has always had a long “lunch hour:” noon until 3 PM, to be precise. All stores, except for restaurants, close up, since people usually go home for lunch. In short, this means that very little gets done during the middle of the day, which is not the worst thing in the world, especially since it closes things during the hottest part of the day. I got online to check email and such, and then I sat down to work on some classwork and chatted with some other students until it was time for class. The afternoon class (also for MSA) went by just as fast as the morning’s, and by the end we were actually writing words in Arabic. A brief seminar on Moroccan customs and etiquette followed class, then Zach and I went back home. We encountered some difficulty getting back to the house, since the security forces had blocked off some roads leading to the music festival as well as a nearby hotel, where former French president Jacques Chirac and family are staying.
As with the previous evening, we had bread with “fixings” and tea as soon as we arrived. More importantly, we had a breakthrough regarding language. The previous night, Zach (through me) tried to explain that he spoke only MSA, while the family was speaking Moroccan Arabic. Fortunately, I was able to say the correct words in French, and our host mother understood. Even more fortunately, she, the older daughter, and the older son all speak MSA (which is known in Morocco as “global” or “classical” Arabic), so Zach was able to partake directly in discussion. Following a musical variety show (which had a Fesien singer who looked strangely like Henry Kissinger) and a bit of CSI: Miami, we had dinner, which was another large meal. Finally, we went to sleep around 1 AM, before which I began to read a book, Tor!, which is a history of German soccer written by Uli Hesse-Lichtenburger. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

I woke up around twenty minutes to noon, and I was finally able to take a shower for the first time since arriving in Morocco. This gives me an opportunity to talk about the bathroom facilities in the house. We have a “Turkish toilet,” or a squat toilet, which is a bit different but in some ways not as frightening as some regular “porcelain thrones.” The hole for the toilet also acts as the shower’s drain, and gravity forces the, well, waste downwards. After a long-awaited shower and an even longer-awaited shave, I was ready to face the world. Zach and I had breakfast, which was the same as the day before. Our host mother then took us out with her when she went shopping in the Medina.
The Medina was indeed what I expected: that is, unexpected. It is a tourist area, so many of the shops specialize in various tourist items, particularly pirated items (clothing especially). I now believe that you can judge a country’s development on its piracy; in that case, Morocco is certainly on the top of the list of developed countries. Other more authentic items were for sale as well. We stopped by a store in order to purchase some honey and butter, and the butter appeared to have been churned in the barrel from which it was collected. Another aspect of the Medina, in addition to its crowded nature, is its geography. The Medina is in a bowl, so to speak, with the Ville Nouvelle on the top parts of the bowl. The hills make for quite a bit of exercise. After we returned from the Medina, we prepared for lunch (what is with the meals here?).
Lunch was slightly different from the other meals, as it consisted of bread (surprise!), fried sardines, and a small salad of carrots, lettuce, olives, and potatoes. During the meal (as with all meals, Zach and I are practicing our Arabic and French respectively), the French Open was on television. After a dessert of a very tangy orange, the television was changed to Channel 1, where the Moroccan Under-21 national soccer team played against Botswana for an Olympic qualifier. Morocco won 1-0, but one interesting memory of the game was during halftime.
There was this one Coca-Cola commercial, which I had seen previously on YouTube. This ad, which had been from Argentina, shows various fans celebrating their team’s goal. For example, the butcher hugs the chicken, lumberjack and a tree, cactus and a balloon, and so on. One of the final scenes shows a couple in bed; the man jumps out celebrating, when another man in boxers jumps out of the closet. Both men look at each other, pause, and then hug. In the Moroccan version, there is no illicit lover; instead, a robber jumps out of the closet. Amazing what cultural differences do for you.
Following the game, I began to do some work (we weren’t assigned any homework for the weekend) by practicing my writing in Arabic. At that point, our host mother’s mother and sisters, who all live in Meknes, came to visit. I got to visit as well, while Zach worked on his (fairly lengthy) assignment. After working on my French (remember, I have had only one day’s worth of Arabic study) for a while, they soon left. We then watched an Egyptian movie (after the pre-dinner bread and tea meal), a comedy involving tons of slapstick, and finally the older brother took Zach and me out for a walk.
We walked around the Medina and parts of the Ville Nouvelle. The whole town was buzzing with life. In addition to the festival, there was a match on the television: Morocco’s national team against Zimbabwe in an African Cup qualifier. It was a good night, as “Les Lions d’Atlas” (The Atlas Lions, as the national team is called) won 2-0. We went for a nice walk, and Zach and I practiced our speech with the older brother. We talked about life as well as cultural differences between the United States and Morocco, and we dropped by to buy a six-pack of water on the way back to the house (six 1.5 liter bottles for 31.50 Dh, or 9 liters for a little under $4.00).
Upon our arrival, the match was ending, and Morocco had nearly scored a third goal. After it had ended, we sat down for dinner, which was something resembling a large potato pancake/omelet with pasta and – you guessed it – bread. It was interesting, as talk shifted to the fact that Zach and I had become family. As my parents and sister know, this inevitably meant that I was bound to make some sort of faux-pas. The first came as we watched NCIS, when I was curious about the nationality of the Israeli character. Apparently in the dubbed version of the show, she seems to be American. However, this was not a terrible comment, as Morocco has traditionally had a liberal view regarding Israel (a lot of Israelis are of Moroccan descent).
My second mistake, though, was not so minor. There was a news story about a boat accident near Laayoune, the largest city in the Western Sahara, a region administered by Morocco under disputed circumstances. In other words, some Sahawis want independence, while the Moroccan government sees the “Saharan provinces” as an indivisible part of Morocco. Put it this way: the equivalent of July 4th here, “The Green March,” commemorates the day when Hassan II led 350,000 Moroccan soldiers into the Sahara. This is a big deal. So when I heard the name of the city, I asked my hosts whether that was the capital of the Sahara. Big mistake. There is only one capital in Morocco, I was told. Realizing what I had said, I quickly took up a wise strategy: I played dumb. I said that I thought it was like in the US or Britain, where individual states or political subunits have their own capital. It turned out to be an extremely safe move. The mistake was understood, and we quickly moved on.
After a dessert of nuts (resembling sunflower seeds, pistachios, peanuts, and chickpeas) and tea, we quickly called it a night. The day ended with some more of Tor!, and lights were turned off around 1:30 AM.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Another late start today, as we didn’t get up until after noon. “SbaH l-khiir” (“good morning”) quickly turned to “msa l-khiir” (“good afternoon”), and we had another breakfast of similar variety. Having not learned our lesson from the previous day, we had another large lunch in the afternoon not too soon after breakfast: beef cooked in a delicious sauce, French fries (or are they “freedom fries?”), and a fruit salad of sorts with carrots, bananas, and fresh orange juice as the base. Wonderful indeed.
Since our work had been for the most part completed, I decided that I would spend the afternoon reading Tor! and starting up this journal. Unfortunately, Zach needed to use the computer in order to update a spreadsheet of Arabic vocabulary, something for which I was more than happy to allow computer use. So I read. Then we had some guests come over to the house: the older daughter’s fiancé and his mother and aunt. Zach and I stayed out of the way, doing our work in the bedroom (we still received desserts in the form of a banana cake with orange-banana glaze, a sort of banana-milk smoothie, and a small glass of “Kuukaa-Kuulaa,” the Arabic for Coke) until summoned to the pre-dinner meal. After the guests left, I decided to add some French to the Arabic chart, and then I finally got down to starting this journal. After writing for a few hours, we got to dinner. Rice pudding. Very good. Finally, after catching the tail end of War of the Worlds, we wrapped up and went to bed. Before falling asleep, I finished Tor! It was indeed a very good book.

Hopefully everyone else is having a relaxing summer in the world of air conditioning and English! I will try to update this as regularly as possible; hopefully the 12-3 hours in the afternoon will be
a time to do writing.


Posted by golladayp 07:29 Archived in Morocco Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

(Entries 6 - 9 of 9) « Page 1 [2]